Months ago, our experience with Coronavirus in America was little more than a meme on our newsfeeds. Our life was normal. My husband was slated to be traveling to Asia in March.
That trip got moved back, then it got canceled, then it was back on; but at a different date than the one written in red on the calendar. That wasn’t life during Covid -19. That was just Army life.
Then, a brief by President Trump hit the airwaves. I contemplated making my usual online grocery order, but went to the store instead — without my kids. A rare Army life luxury.
The store was twice as crowded as usual. Among the panicked faces, I saw groups of women quietly chatting. They were calm. They were smiling. They were just catching up. Ha, I thought to myself, those must be Army wives. Sure enough, one was proudly wearing her husband’s unit sweatshirt.
And that’s when I started thinking about how the Army was preparing us for something like this all along. Here’s how, in the hopes that it helps you, too:
- Avoiding the news. In the beginning, I was making sure I was home every time for the latest presidential brief. Now, I am not even sure if there are briefs still happening. Army wives know that watching the news can be anxiety provoking, scary and contradictory. We all know that if a husband is in another country, you don’t watch the national news. You follow the rules and try your best to avoid things that are anxiety provoking, knowing worrying won’t change anything.
- Learning to disconnect. I used to always joke that when my husband is gone, I began dating my iPhone. I clutched it constantly, hoping to hear from him, get word from a friend, or receive any type of reliable update. Then you see photos of families together, while knowing yours can’t be. You see the Pinterest mom who is crushing it, or the mom who was playing games with her kids while you were napping. Then you realize you should put the phone down, and focus on what you can do for your own family.
- Using video communications. So many of us have been trying to connect using Facetime, Skype, or Zoom. We want to hear our friends laugh, see their expression change. Military families have used these avenues to welcome new babies, tell a spouse they are pregnant, or watch a birthday surprise. I’ve learned to just be grateful to have that opportunity. Video chat your loved ones; it makes a difference.
- Getting mail. I couldn’t wait to check the mail every day when my then-boyfriend was in training. For three months it was letters only, then a few months later it was another three months of letters only. It was therapeutic writing down a struggle of the day and knowing by the time he got that letter, I would have already figured out how to crawl out of that hole alone. Take time to write someone a letter. It’s an easy, inexpensive surprise.
- Distracting ourselves from reality. We have had numerous trainings where we’ve had to only look forward and keep going. If we really thought about what was going on, we would be frozen in panic or fear. We all have things we immerse ourselves in so we forget.
- We lean on our friends. With schools out and many of us with no family around for support, “it takes a village” has never been more true. Army wives show up for each other — whether that means taking the kids for a few hours, waiting in line before the grocery store opens, or responding to an urgent request in a massive group text. You’re bonded by the hard times.
- We’re used to waiting. When someone asks if your husband is gone, they usually turn right around and ask when they are coming back. The thing is, we usually don’t know for sure; and whether it has been 24 hours or 24 months, it is really never easy. Imagine how you would feel if someone told you the coronavirus was gone. That’s exactly what it’s like when your husband surprises you a week early from a deployment. All the posts people are sharing about what they’re going to do when this is over? We are used to planning in a similar way, for the day when our family can be together again.
I’ve seen people ask how this will change the world, to various responses: more hand washing, being aware of people coughing near you in public. My response? Everything. When your life changes, it never feels the same again. The next time you hug your extended family, go out to eat, walk through a grocery store with no mask and no fear, or visit a fully stocked toilet paper aisle, you’ll take the time to notice it. And you’ll feel new gratitude.
This post was written by Melissa Kohlman, an Army spouse and member of The Sway team. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.